Counterbalancing newest trend in golf

The newest trend in golf is this: Savvy players are spending $50 per club to have an interchangeable weight installed in the butt end of their woods, irons, wedges or putter. This is called counterbalancing or backweighting.

Counterbalancing has been around for many years, but its newest rendition is by far its best. Two engineers, one a 15-year veteran of NASA, have devised a system that allows golfers to figure precisely how much weight they need to achieve optimum results.

The backweighting concept boasts a rich tradition that includes devotees such as Jack Nicklaus. Still, before the appearance of this new system, called Balance-Certified Golf, the process was basically a hit-or-miss proposition.

Several teachers and clubmakers who have tried the Balance-Certified method rave about the results obtained by ordinary golfers.

“We’ve made hundreds of drivers by incorporating Balance-Certified into our fitting process,” says clubmaker Leith Anderson of The Golf Lab in Palo Alto, Calif., “and everybody gets an extra 5 or 6 yards, almost without exception. It’s kind of a no-brainer, because all the customers love it.”

Mark Castillo runs a teaching facility in Duluth, Ga., called The Golf School. “I’ve seen some really, really great results,” Castillo says. “I’m well over the 100-student mark with these weights, and all of these golfers have noticed immediate changes in what they feel or what the ball is doing.”

The range of Balance-Certified backweighting runs from approximately 10 to 50 grams in full-swing clubs. In putters, it runs from 10 to 150 grams.

A hole is drilled in the butt end of the grip, and drop-in weights are installed. These weights, which lock into the shaft with a friction-fit mechanism, can be changed in a few seconds. This allows golfers to experiment with different weights and find the one that works best.

“I use the heaviest weight I can with someone who tends to slice the ball,” Castillo says, “and a lot of times it will straighten out the ball flight.

“I see this as being the final piece of the puzzle in making golf clubs the best they can be for all the different golfers.”

Counterbalancing is all about feel. Additional weight in the butt of the club alters the balance point, decreases the swingweight, and increases the overall weight. In the jargon of the trade, a backweighted club often is called a “heavier hammer” simply because of the increased mass.

Several shaft companies are investigating possible increases in swing speed and ball speed with the Balance-Certified system.

“So far there are some encouraging results,” says True Temper engineer Scott Cokeing, “but we are in the early evaluation stage.”

Shafts with altered balance points are nothing new. For example, the popular Harmon CB shafts from UST are backweighted. However, the Balance-Certified concept is different because it involves the placement of substantial weight in the butt of the club.

How could this increase swing speed?

Jeff Lindner, a former NASA scientist and one of the founders of Balance-Certified, offers three explanations:

—“It’s actually getting more load (or kick) into the shaft, which means we can tune the amount of load that golfers get.”

—Lighter clubs have “less feel” and “there’s a control issue,” while heavier clubs offer a force to “push against.”

—“Getting properly balanced clubs allows golfers to swing better and make better contact.”

There are several ways to counterbalance a golf club.

Former pro Dave Hill was a master of wrapping lead tape under his grip, almost as an underlisting. Tour player Bob Wynn would peel up the bottom of the grip and install lead tape inthe area his hands didn’t touch.

Lead can be installed inside the butt end of the shaft in several ways. Some clubmakers use a plastic receptacle filled with a mix of epoxy and lead powder.

It’s all legal. The U.S. Golf Association has no specific rules against internal weighting schemes for golf clubs.

Need a counterbalancing tip for fighting the yips? One of the oldest remedies is to fill the shaft of the putter with sand. The putter shaft becomes so heavy that it is virtually impossible to stroke the putt with a jerky motion.

Lindner, along with John Cranston and Greg Laue, dreamed up Balanced-Certified in 1999. Lindner and Cranston were veterans of several brainy sports-related competitions, including concrete canoes (Lindner won four national titles), human-powered vehicles (it took 17 days to peddle from San Diego to Washington, D.C., in a machine resembling a recumbent bicycle with a Kevlar shell) and composite wheelchairs.

“John, Greg and I are almost obsessive-compulsive engineers who love solving problems in sports,” Lindner says. “Eventually, we made it to golf.”

Currently they have licensed a network of clubmakers and golf teachers around the country. Complete information can be found on their Web site (www.balance-certified.com).

“I think these guys are onto something,” says Gary Mayes, a computer engineer who runs a Web site called www.equip2golf.com. “I think it’s just a matter of time before a shaft company or a golf club manufacturer jumps on board.”

Scott Hoch and Tom Jenkins are endorsing the concept on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, respectively. So far they have counterbalanced their putters and are experimenting with full-swing clubs.

“I’m just trying to help my stroke,” Hoch says.

“I tend to get a little quick, and the weight seems to slow me down.”

Jenkins believes the weight is an antidote to left-hand breakdown.

“I think it certainly makes the putter flow better,” he says. “The weight seems to help the butt end of the putter keep moving.”

Putter maker Dave Curry of Thomasville, Ga., has worked with Lindner for several years and now offers putters with Balance-Certified variable weights in the butt cap (bigoakputters.com). Bobby Grace, who makes putters for MacGregor Golf, says he is investigating the idea for some of his creations.

Lindner admits he was surprised by Balance-Certified’s success with drivers. “Our original focus was putters,” he says. “We had studied putters.

We knew we had a great product. Then, out of nowhere, we realized we were changing ball flight with drivers. It took us three weeks at the computer to figure out that we were changing the loading of the shaft. It was a revelation.”

Where will the revelation lead?

Lindner is eyeing a SuperShaft that will be manufactured to the specifications that he and his team are developing.

If Lindner is right, the heavy butt – never a desirable trait in humans – will be a beautiful addition to many golf clubs in the future.

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